Having thoughts of wanting to harm yourself can be very scary. For most people self-harm is a way of expressing and coping with feelings of sadness, hopelessness, pain, anger, shame, numbness and more.

Understanding how we are feeling and why is a good place to start and can help us learn healthier ways of coping with our emotions. Scroll below to find out more.

What is self-harm?

Self-harm or self-injury is when you deliberately hurt or injure yourself but without necessarily wanting to die. For a lot of people it can sometimes seem like the only way to cope with how they are feeling.

Cutting, bruising, scratching and burning the skin as well as using substances with intent to harm yourself such as drugs or alcohol are all examples of self-harm.



Why do I feel like this?

Self-harm can be a way of coping with distressing emotions and for some people it can also be a way of “feeling” when they’re struggling with feeling numb. It might make you feel better for a little while but eventually self-harming can make things worse. It can not only effect your physical health but it can negatively impact your relationships too.

For the majority of people, the act of harming themselves is something they try to keep hidden from others. Some people may have a few close friends or whanau that they tell but for most it is something that is kept secret. Although it may not seem like the case, talking to someone can be one of the most helpful things to do when you feel like harming yourself.

What does it look like?

Self-harming behaviours can become addictive and hard to stop if they’re not addressed. It’s important to know what self-harming looks like so you can ask for help if you need it, as well as knowing how to help someone else who might be struggling too.

Some common experiences people talk about are:

  • Intense feelings of low mood
  • Self-loathing
  • Negative self-talk, blaming yourself
  • Being withdrawn and not speaking to others
  • Having to wear long-sleeved clothing to cover injuries
  • Drug and alcohol misuse
  • Feeling out of control
  • Feeling the need to punish yourself
  • Desire to feel pain

Strategies & Tips

Using some of the strategies below when you are feeling distressed or having urges to self-harm can be helpful. If you find that these tips aren’t working for you or you feel like more support would be useful then talking to someone is a good place to start. 

Express It

Finding a practical way to express emotions can be really helpful for some people. You could try something creative like drawing, painting or playing an instrument.

Take 15

When you feel the urge to self-harm, challenge yourself to wait 15 minutes and try some of the other strategies mentioned here. Delaying self-harm can give you time and space to let the intense feelings reduce.

Understand It

Try keeping a diary of your reasons and triggers for self-harming. Try writing down your thoughts and feelings at the time as well as any events or situations that may have prompted you to feel that way. This will help you to know your triggers so you can avoid or manage them in the future.

Tell Someone

Reaching out to someone when you are feeling the urge to self-harm can be a massive help. You don’t have to tell them about your urges if you feel uncomfortable, but even just talking about your emotions can help reduce their intensity.

Ride It Out

Just like a wave, urges to self-harm often start out small and then increase in intensity. It can be helpful to remind yourself that the feelings will pass, you won’t stay at the top of the wave forever. Try using some of the strategies you see here to shift your focus and help you to “ride the wave”.

Get Your Heart Rate Up

Try doing some kind of vigorous exercise that gets you breathing hard and sweating. Running, biking up hill, pushups and weights are all great options and can help relieve some of the tension or emotion that you’re feeling.

Getting it sorted

Self-harming can be a confusing and scary experience but it’s important to know that it does not mean you are crazy or that something is wrong with you. Self-harm is a way of trying to cope with your distress, and there are lots of other strategies that you can use that will help you to feel better while keeping you safe. 

Sometimes it can be easier to talk to someone that you don’t know. There are some great 24/7 free phone lines available that can provide you with helpful advice, support and someone to listen when you’re finding things tough. If you are thinking about self-harming right now, you need to speak to someone your trust or someone who is trained to help. Click here for a list of phone lines that are available to support you and help keep you safe.